As a new generation is introduced to the suffragist movement via Hollywood’s latest offering ‘Suffragette’ starring Meryl Streep, we are all asked to remember the sacrifices made by the women’s movement as it attempted to get women the right to vote on an equal footing with men.
Derry, always a city in the thick of things politically, hosted many suffragette meetings; one of which was led by possibly the most famous suffragette of all; Mrs Emmeline Pankhurst who is played by Streep in the newly released film.
Mrs Pankhurst came to St Columb’s Hall at the request of the Irish Women’s Franchise League and a report in the Derry Standard on October 10 1910, stated that the meeting was well attended by “women representative of all classes”.
Local historian Trevor Temple has been researching the history of the suffragette movement and unearthed the newspaper files from microfilm in the Central Library.
Despite the gravity of the subject which was to be discussed that evening, the opening paragraphs of the report concentrate on soft lighting and flower arrangements rather than equal wages and the right to votes.
Mrs Pankhurst waited her turn to take the platform in St Columb’s Hall, following the city’s Mayor of the time; Councillor John McFarland.
When she did, she thanked the people of Derry and Ireland for their “particularly keen interest” in the women’s suffrage movement.
She also asked the audience to consider whether women would have “done all that was reported of them across the channel, gone out into the streets, faced thousands of police and gone into crowded meetings unless there were many real grievances which had made matters intolerable for them”.
As well as Mrs Pankhurst’s visit. Emily Wilding Davison, who died after she threw herself under King George V’s horse , wrote two documented letters to the Derry Standard in 1911 railing at the paper’s treament of suffragettes in its editorials.
In her letters she accuses the Standard of taking “pot shots” at her female colleagues.
In a sarcastic reply the editor writes backs that by using the term pot shots, Wilding is “aping” the language of men.
“Precisely what women should not do” he noted.
Women over 30 were finally given the vote in 1918, if of course they paid rates and taxes which of course was the same qualifying criteria for men too.
Universal suffrage did not come into effect until 1928, when voting applied to everyone regardless of background.